LOCHGILPHEAD MINISTERS IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
In 2018 when different events were taking place to commemorate the end of the First World War, Rev. Dr. Roddy MacLeod provided these articles about some of the experiences of Lochgilphead ministers during World War 1
REV MALCOLM MACLEOD
On 9th February 1916 Rev. Malcolm MacLeod was inducted as minister of the United Free Church of Scotland in Lochgilphead. A native of Uig in the island of Lewis, he had served as U. F. minister in Strath in Skye since 1910.
But soon after coming to Lochgilphead Malcolm MacLeod answered the call to be an army chaplain in France with the 51st (Highland) Division, serving with the 4th Battalion Gordon Highlanders.
(While he was minister in Strath in Skye Mr. MacLeod had served for a year in France with the YMCA Huts. To begin with, he carried out his duties in a tent which could hold a thousand servicemen, and when it blew down a large wooden hut was built.)
Rev. Malcolm MacLeod kept a diary detailing the services he held while serving as an army chaplain in France. He conducted at least seven services on a Sunday, some of them in Gaelic. He describes one service which he held for soldiers from Argyll. In the dark dank place where the service took place there was nowhere to place a candle to provide some light, so one of the soldiers had to hold a candle in his hand throughout the service.
In his diary MacLeod gives a vivid description of the horrors of war, the roar of the big guns, shells sometimes exploding in a thousand pieces above them or ploughing through the ground leaving large craters, while planes flew above them like flocks of birds. What gave him hope was the sound of a skylark pouring out its song in the midst of such turmoil or hearing a thrush singing on a tree trunk.
With the coming of peace, Malcolm MacLeod returned to serve the United Free Church congregation in Lochgilphead for a further six years. As well as being diligent in his church duties, he was active in the life of the community. He was a founder member of the Lochgilphead Institute and United Services Club. He was actively involved in the local branch of An Comunn Gàidhealach and in Lochgilphead Gaelic Choir. In later years he was to become a renowned Gaelic writer and broadcaster, editing An Comunn Gàidhealach’s monthly magazine and serving as its President.
On 17th September 1924 Rev. Malcolm MacLeod left Lochgilphead to become minister of John Knox and Tradeston Church in Glasgow which at that time was a Gaelic charge. In 1937, now a minister of the Church of Scotland, following the Union of the churches in 1929, he moved to Balquhidder in Perthshire. He became ill and died in hospital in Glasgow on 21st June 1946, which was the very evening when his parishioners were to present him with the hood and gown for the degree of Doctor of Divinity which the University of Edinburgh was about to confer upon him.
A LOCHGILPHEAD MINISTER’S FIRST WORLD WAR DIARY
REV KENNETH MACRAE
For part of the time that Malcolm MacLeod was in Lochgilphead, Rev. Kenneth MacRae was minister of the Free Church congregation, from 1915 to 1919. From 1912 until his death in 1963 Mr. MacRae kept a very full diary, and it may be of interest to readers to learn from his journal of the different ways in which that terrible conflict touched his own life and the life of his congregation in Lochgilphead.
The last year of the war was a particularly difficult one for families within the Free Church congregation. On 3rd April 1918 Kenneth MacRae wrote in his diary: "Called on poor Mrs. Lambert today who yesterday received word of the death of her son in France. She is bearing up wonderfully well. She is sustained from on high. She said that yesterday the message that came to her with power was ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Further vexing news came today. Poor Willie Carswell is missing; last seen he was slightly wounded. I am deeply grieved for the Carswells. The suspense incidental to this news must be excruciating."
Sadly, six days later came the news the family had been dreading, that Willie Carswell had in fact died as a result of his injuries.
Later that same month, on Sunday 21st April, MacRae writes in his journal: "I heard today that Duncan MacLullich had died of wounds received on the 21st and I went to call on his poor mother ere I came home from the morning service."
On 9th May there is this entry: "After the service I visited Ann Graham who lost her son in France recently. I prayed in Gaelic. She evidently understood, for she wept. Poor creature! The following day Kenneth MacRae heard of a Free Church student from Lewis whom he knew, John Munro, who was killed in action."
The awful loss of life during the First World War affected Kenneth MacRae in a very personal way. On Saturday 14th April 1917, we read this sad note in his diary. "The blackest day of my life, but the Lord has not left me without consolation. Got word today that my darling brother George was killed in action on the 9th in the advance at Arras while leading his platoon." The two brothers had last met in May 1916 when George had called on the Free Church manse in Lochgilphead, and they parted for the last time on the shores of Loch Sween. At the beginning of May, Rev. Kenneth visited the family home in Edinburgh and there read the 150 letters of sympathy which his parents had received following brother George’s death. Another brother, Duncan, also served in France.
Unlike his colleague in the U. F. congregation in Lochgilphead, Kenneth MacRae did not become a war-time chaplain. In May 1917 he had received a letter from the Free Church stating that he would be called on should there be no volunteers for the chaplaincy. In the event, MacRae was not required as a chaplain. But with the scarcity of preachers, his ministry was much in demand at home, as he preached in the morning and in the evening in Lochgilphead, and on alternate Sunday afternoons in Tayvallich and Kilmartin.
Rev. Kenneth MacRae was in Lochgilphead when the announcement of the armistice was made. In his diary he wrote, "At mid-day news came that peace had come at last. The first we learned of it was the pealing of the church bells in the early afternoon. Poor Cathie (his wife) was sadly affected and broke down crying. As for myself I utterly fail to grasp it."
On some issues Kenneth MacRae took a hard line. He would not share services with clergy whose churches he did not regard as being orthodox on some points of doctine, especially from the Church of Scotland or the Catholic Church. The Town Clerk of Lochgilphead had arranged for a united public service on 11th November to mark the end of hostilities and hoped that MacRae would take part. He declined to do so, but instead addressed his own congregation at the regular mid-week prayer meeting in the Free Church.